Pakistan

PTI to observe ‘Thanksgiving Day’ not ‘lockdown’ on November 2

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ISLAMABAD: Chairman Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan on Tuesday announced to observe a ‘Thanksgiving Day’ in the federal capital on November 2 instead of a planned protest and sit-in.

The abrupt decision came after the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan on Tuesday began hearing a case into the ‘Panama Papers’ leaks and offered to form a commission to investigate revelations that Sharif’s children held offshore bank accounts.

The court has asked the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family to submit an answer within two days.

Speaking to PTI workers and supporters outside his residence in Bani Gala, Imran Khan said, “For the first time in the history of Pakistan, an authority is being investigated.”

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He thanked all those who helped him in his 20 years of struggle against corruption, particularly after the ‘Panama Papers’ Leaks.

“We tried our best to get justice from the state institutions, but the institutions such as NAB failed to support us,” said Imran Khan.

“I am so happy that the Supreme Court has decided that from Thursday it will begin probing Nawaz Sharif,” he said, surrounded by ecstatic supporters who danced to pop songs and shouted anti-government slogans.

He said, “But after the Supreme Court historical decision, PTI will observe a thanksgiving day in Islamabad tomorrow.”

Khan invited the entire leadership, supporters and workers of PTI to gather at 2pm on the Parade Ground – far from Islamabad’s main government and commercial district – on November 2 (Wednesday) for celebrations.

 

The shutdown call

Chairman PTI had threatened to ‘shutdown’ Islamabad in his push to unseat Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on grounds of alleged corruption linked to the infamous ‘Panama Papers’ leaks.

After which, the government had blocked all the roads leading to the capital in a bid to stop PTI supporters from entering Islamabad. A huge group of PTI workers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was still in Swabi, which the government tried to quell with tear gas and rubber bullets late Monday night.

Earlier, Islamabad and Rawalpindi saw complete lockdown on October 28 when the twin cities were packed with containers after a raid on PTI’s youth convention a day before. A three-day-old child died from suffocation due to heavy tear gas shelling in Liaquat Bagh neighbourhood of Rawalpindi.

On Sunday, however, he had clarified that his rallying cry to stop the government from functioning was not a direct threat, but rather a prediction of events if his supporters flooded into the city.

He also had dismissed accusations his planned shutdown of Islamabad could lead to a military coup, saying Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “can’t hide behind ‘democracy in danger'” to quash protests.

He had vowed to bring a million people into Islamabad on Wednesday to paralyse the government and force Sharif either to resign or allow an inquiry into the “Panama Papers” revelations about his family’s offshore wealth.

 

Arrests and protests

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Ahead of the lockdown tomorrow, the political tension had sparked periodic clashes between PTI supporters and the Punjab police, who had arrested scores of opposition workers, using tear gas to disperse protesters defying a citywide ban on public gatherings.

Amnesty International had called on Islamabad release hundreds of opposition activists detained, as police used tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent them from entering Islamabad.

Two PTI workers died and several others injured in varying incidents of police shelling during the last two days.

On Tuesday, the Punjab police released Andleeb Abbas, a prominent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader after briefly arresting her from outside Bani Gala on Tuesday.

Yesterday, Senior PTI leaders Arif Alvi and Imran Ismail were briefly detained on Monday and bundled into a police van near Khan’s home. However, the interior minister swiftly ordered their release.

 

Fears of instability

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Imran Khan had challenged the Sharif’s government on the basis of leaked documents from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm that appear to show the prime minister’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands and used them to buy properties in London. Sharif’s family denies wrongdoing.

The government said it would take part in a probe, but rejected the opposition’s formula ToRs on Sharif’s family rather than making it broad based. PM’s own name did not appear in the Panama Papers.

In 2014, Imran Khan led a months-long occupation that paralysed the government quarter after rejecting Sharif’s decisive election win a year earlier.

The prospect of similar protests again had also hit the local stock market, stoking fears of political instability just as the sputtering economy was starting to rebound.

 

A high-profile Scandal  

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Names of several Pakistanis including Nawaz Sharif’s children Maryam, Hussain, and Hasan surfaced in one of the world’s biggest ever data leaks through an online searchable database made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in April 2016, following which the prime minister had formed an inquiry commission to probe his family’s alleged links to offshore accounts.

Unfortunately, the federal government and the opposition could not agree on drafting joint terms of references (ToRs), which would probe ‘Panama Papers’ Leaks.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) also failed to probe the case.

The PTI later said to hold a sit-in in Islamabad on November 2 which has now been changed into a Thanksgiving Day.

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